Emily Skinner’s Cabaret ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ at Signature Theatre by Jennifer Perry

Tony Award nominee Emily Skinner is no stranger to the Washington, DC area. In addition to appearing in full productions in the area (Dirty Blonde and The Witches of Eastwick at Signature Theatre for example), she has charmed local audiences with cabaret performances at The Kennedy Center and Signature Theatre. This week Ms. Skinner returns to Signature with her self-conceived cabaret act with musical direction by Signature’s own talented Gabriel Mangiante, who expertly and enthusiastically accompanies the highly theatrical singer on piano. Although the evening mostly features signature songs that longtime fans in the area have heard her sing more than once before, she incorporates at least one or two newer numbers, including one which is an unexpected treat for lovers of new musical theatre. Regardless of whether the material is new or old, one thing remains constant – it is extraordinarily well sung and interpreted. Her casual yet inviting rapport with the audience makes the low-key cabaret all the more enjoyable.

Emily Skinner. Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre.
Emily Skinner. Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre.

Vocally, her standard “Here Comes the Ballad,” which Wally Harper originally penned for Barbara Cook, is a highlight. Displaying her pure tone and strong soprano range, she expertly delivers this tongue-in-cheek song focused on the soprano ingénue’s plight. On the flip side, her opener, Kander and Ebb’s “Everybody’s Girl” highlights something that few can do besides Ms. Skinner – combine a bombastic and controlled belt with oodles of personality and confidence while not losing sight of the meaning of the lyrics. I only wish some of the up-and-coming ‘Broadway’ belters, both here and in New York, would take a note from her and realize that the successful delivery of showstoppers is not just dependent on screaming loud with tone and showing off vocal tricks.

Other highlights include “Simple Little Things” (from Schmidt and Jones’ exquisite 110 in the Shade) and my personal favorite, Goldrich and Heisler’s “Adelaide’s Dilemma” from The Great American Mousical, a Julie Andrews-directed, children’s book-based family musical that Ms. Skinner performed recently at Goodspeed Opera House. “Simple Little Things” has a gorgeous melody, but perhaps even more impressive lyrics. Skinner effortlessly combines technically impeccable singing and true emotion with her rendition. Although performed in a cabaret setting here, her performance of the song would certainly fit right into a full musical production where the song is used to convey Lizzie’s desires for the future and general feelings about her life because she truly takes on the character. “Adelaide’s Dilemma” (not to be confused with “Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys and Dolls) is classic Emily Skinner ‘the diva’-fare. Bombastic, comedic, and heartbreaking all at once, she made me wish I had seen The Great American Mousical over the holiday season. For me, any Goldrich and Heisler song is worth a listen, but when Emily Skinner sings it, it is really worth a listen.

Even if you’ve seen the divine Emily Skinner perform hundreds of times before, it’s worth it to check out her current cabaret at Signature if you’re a musical theatre junkie like me. Even if you don’t know Stephen Sondheim from Jerry Herman, it’s likely you’ll still appreciate her solid musicianship and engaging performance style.

Running Time: About 50 minutes with no intermission.

Emily Skinner: There is Nothing Like a Dame runs through January 12, 2013 at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington, VA.  For tickets, call the box office at 703-820-9771 or purchase them online.


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